(Published: October 3, 2007)
Do you remember this old joke: A guy comes into a bar wearing a tinfoil hat. He sits down and orders a drink. The bartender asks him about the tinfoil on his head. "I have a mortal fear of being eaten by bears, so I wear this on my head to keep them away." The bartender replies that bears haven't been seen in these parts for years. The customer replies proudly, "See ... it works!"
Lately, whenever someone tells me that the so-called "War on Terror" is working because there has been no attack on the United States since 2001, I look for the tinfoil hat.
We should call the Department Homeland Security by its functional name: Department of Homeland Insecurity. In the wake of 9/11 this nation has unquestioningly accepted layers of stupid rules each piled upon the other, from shucking shoes to placing liquids and gels in quart-sized plastic bags on the airport screening conveyor belt. I was recently annoyed by Coast Guard rules that force inter-island ferry passengers in Ketchikan to carry their luggage in the driving rain from the terminal to the cart left parked hundreds of feet away at the ferry ramp. After assisting an elderly couple struggling with heavy bags, I returned to the ticket agent and asked her why the driver doesn't pull up to the terminal and let us load our luggage more conveniently. "Coast Guard rules" she said quickly. Obviously I was not the first to ask. "They don't want the loading and unloading to be so close to their building -- it's for security reasons." I rolled my eyes. The agent added: "I know ... it doesn't make any sense. If someone really wanted to do something ... well ... you know."
My travel experiences under the Idiocracy of Homeland Security have given me lots of waiting time to stew about what our country has become in the years since Sept. 11. My thoughts frequently turn on two of the main dogma of the Warrior-In-Chief.
• The world changed on Sept. 11, 2001 -- Of course this statement is untrue. This is still the same old world as before, fraught with dangers and uncertainties. What has changed is our frontier perception of fortress America: We have been dramatically attacked on our own soil. The attack caught us offguard in much the same way as the attack on Pearl Harbor shocked and surprised us. But unlike the ebullient FDR who took us into World War II calling for courage and sacrifice, GWB calls on us to be afraid and to keep consuming.
By embracing fear, our political leaders have created a kind of post-9/11 traumatic stress disorder. It just seems to me that our domestic and foreign policies have become more insular, violent and paranoid. For the past several years, poor old Uncle Sam has been sitting up in the attic cleaning his rifle and peeking out of his curtain, scaring the neighbors. Now the crazy old goat is building a giant fence around his yard to keep out the "aliens."
• Our enemies hate us for our freedom and our values -- By that measure, I think we are losing the war -- not militarily, since this war has no military objectives; we seem to be compromising the very freedoms and values we are defending. As comedian Bill Maher says, "If we lose our sense of humor, the terrorists will have won." Likewise, if we are fighting to defend our freedom, then the USA Patriot Act is an act of friendly fire, badly wounding our cause. The 9/11 PTSD also seems to be draining our optimism as a people, a terrible fate for the nation that has been a beacon of hope to others for over 200 years.
All that being said, however, I will probably continue my own sheeplike compliance with the silly rituals of Homeland Insecurity, including submitting my smelly shoes for security screening and schlepping my bags around concrete barriers to the ferry dock.
I have recently noticed something hopeful, however: A lot of us sheep are starting to snarl at the herders -- especially the ones wearing the tinfoil hats.
Elstun Lauesen is a rural development specialist. E-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.